X is intelligently designed means ...

Howard J. Van Till (110661.1365@compuserve.com)
Sun, 4 Apr 1999 21:12:11 -0400

Wow. What a flood of postings re ID!

For now, let me respond to some points made by Bill Dembski.

Thanks, Bill, for joining in this conversation. Onlookers should know that we
have talked about this issue in a variety of circumstances and that we have
each enjoyed the respect of the other. It's been a friendly exchange so far,
and I trust it will continue to be so.

At the risk of focusing on points of disagreement, let's work on this matter
of defining the term that names your enterprise, ID.

I asked, As *you* use the term, what does it mean to be (or have been)
"intelligently designed"?

Your reply: "To be (or have been) 'intelligently designed' is
to be (or have been) **designed** by an **intelligent agent**.

Bill, you know as well as I do that one cannot ordinarily use the term to be
defined in that term's definition. We all learned that to say that "a horse is
a horsey thing" does nothing to help us know what a horse is.

Following your pattern for the definition of 'intelligent design,' I could
define my nonsense term, 'gzorply muffnordled,' with this sentence:

To be (or have been) gzorply muffnordled is to be (or have been)
**muffnordled** by a **gzorply agent**.

How much would I have communicated about the meaning of the term? Exactly

Knowing that I would so object, you say:

>Does Howard mean to suggest that "intelligent design" is as
>incomprehensible a notion as "gzorply muffnordled"? "Gzorply muffnordled"
>is a nonsense phrase with no history of usage and no semantic content.
>"Intelligent design," on the other hand, has a perfectly well understood
>common usage.

Bill, I heartily disagree with your optimistic assessment regarding "common
usage." The posts on this list are evidence enough that common usage is
anything but uniform. Numerous differing operative definitions have made
fruitful discourse on this topic nearly impossible. Trying to follow the
shifts in meaning could leave a person hopelessly exhausted.

That is why I have long been pleading with those of you who are agressively
promoting the use of that term to put your cards on the table and to provide
us with a clear and candid definition of it. It need not be so restrictive as
to leave insufficient room for adjustment or for options within a category.
But the *fundamental category* to which "intelligent design" belongs should be
something that could easily be delineated.

Is "intelligent design" a mind-like action such as "thoughtful
conceptualization for the accomplishment of a purpose", a hand-like action
such as "imposing a new form or structural arrangement on available raw
materials" or some other category of action?

Are you using the term,'design,' in the modern sense or in the traditional
Paleyan sense? Thinking minds want to know, Bill. I know that you and your
colleagues are weary of my asking for your operative definitions, but I
believe that you owe it to all who want to evaluate your proposals. Your
reference to these term as "intuitively well-understood notions" just doesn't
hold up.


>Howard and I have been through all this ground before. He wants a
>definition of "intelligent design" before he is even willing to consider
>the possibility of specified complexity as a criterion for detecting
>design. What's more, he wants in the definition some acknowledgment of the
>mode of assembly (and in the case of biological systems, an acknowledgment
>of extra-natural assembly). But the mode of assembly is a separate question
>from design.

Bill, just saying that candidly and publicly would be a tremendous advance in
the discussion. That's why I have been calling for a clear distinction between
two types of action: 1) thoughtful conceptualization for the accomplishment of
a purpose -- a mind-like action, and 2) imposing a novel form on materials not
gifted with the capabilities for actualizing that form without episodes of
external agent assistance -- a hand-like action.

The problem that so frustrates me is that some people think ID means 1), and
others think it means *both* 1) and 2). Until we can distinguish mind-like
action from hand-liike action, we will just talk past one another. Those who
wish the concept of ID to be evaluated in a respectful manner must, therefore,
tell us what category of action is being proposed.


>Howard's call to define "intelligent design" seems to me not a
>plea for clarity, but an attempt to straitjacket intelligent design so that
>it is sure to remain outside science and also to preserve his theology of a
>fully-gifted creation.

No, Bill, I want people to be able to evaluate ID on the basis of what your ID
program actually entails, not a misunderstanding of it. Isn't that what you
want also? If so, we can end on that point of agreement.


Howard Van Till